by Vida D. Scudder
[Dutton, $4.00]
AFTER completing forty years of teaching English literature at Wellesley College, and having passed her seventieth birthday, Miss Scudder looks back in this volume over the way she has come. It is an inward way, a way of the mind and the spirit. Events are of significance not alone for their outward aspect but as markers on a journey. It has been a journey in search of reality, she says. And she has found reality in the pursuit of it.
What is reality? ‘What I perceive must be in some sense real. . . . But the scene is vision; it is not fact.’ In Wordsworth’s words, ‘ it is a prospect in the mind.’ Yet the beauty and truth which the mind sees are not invented by the mind. Miss Seudder is no Berkeleian. The real exists in relationships; it comes to being at the point of ‘union of my faculty of sight with external nature.’ This union is no illusion, and though it transcends all human perception, such as that to which any finite mind is limited, the vision which each of us has is to be trusted as authentic.
Miss Seudder calls herself a Catholic. By this she does not mean that she is a member of the Roman Catholic Church, but that the insights achieved by historic Christianity and embodied in Catholic creed and practice seem to her to disclose the ultimate meaning of the world and of life. She is an Episcopalian, and has been a foremost influence in developing in that communion a consciousness of those abiding values of Christian faith which antedate the Reformation.
Her Catholicism was not a family heritage. Her father was a Congregational missionary in India, where he died by drowning while she was an infant. Brought to America by her mother, she passed her early childhood under the disciplines of the Puritan tradition. While still in her girlhood she spent three and a half years in Europe, where one day she found by chance a book which introduced her to the fascinating intimacies of the Catholic way of life. Here, she says, ‘the young Protestant girl whose background was so strictly Puritan‘ received her ‘first glimpses of her native land.‘ The possibility of becoming a Roman Catholic was imminent for many years, but under the preaching of Phillips Brooks and the guidance of the Reverend Charles H. Brent, who later became bishop, she remained in the Anglican communion and found that she was able, ‘once surrendered to its disciplines,’ to breathe the air she craved.
It was out of this background of Anglo-Catholicism that there emerged both the prompting and the support of Miss Scudder’s social passion. She gave herself with unwearied zeal to the betterment of the living conditions of the underprivileged. She was a pioneer in the Social Settlement movement, and a comrade of Jane Addams and Walter Rauschenbusch and Lillian Wald and Mary Simkhovitch, and of Catherine Breslikovsky, ‘true saint of the Russian Revolution.’
Miss Scudder became an ardent socialist. Her mind penetrated to the spiritual core of the philosophy of Karl Marx, which she felt was ‘extraordinarily consonant with a Sacramental view of the universe.’ She believes that some day a thinker will arise within the Christian tradition who will synthesize the Catholic faith with Marxian philosophy as Thomas Aquinas synthesized it with the philosophy of Aristotle.
It is this fusing of social passion with the Catholic faith which invests Miss Scudder’s life experience with peculiar significance. Some of us cannot join her in taking over for ourselves so much of the liturgical and creedal forms which developed under conditions so unlike our own. But there are many social-minded Christians in the Protestant churches who are unhappy in the narrow range to which their religious imagination has been restricted. Among them the conviction is growing that the recovery of Catholicity for Protestantism — whatever forms it may assume — is supremely important for a church which holds itself responsible for the character of civilization. Miss Scudder’s book, like the rich and many-sided life of which it tells, will be best understood by such readers.